This review contains spoilers.
2.17 Distant Sun
Supergirl season two has played the long game with the Mon-El arc and, in Distant Sun, it came to a head. When Queen Rhea, Mon-El’s mother, puts a bounty on Kara’s head, it makes Mon-El choose: return home or let Kara continue to live with constant attacks on her life. Or at least that’s the false dichotomy Rhea gives her son, hoping he doesn’t notice that there are other options — they’re just much messier. Little does she know, Kara has spent the last several months teaching Mon-El what it looks like to eschew the paths of least resistance and fight for something better, even and perhaps especially when it isn’t easy.
Many viewers would be glad to see Mon-El gone from Supergirl. They haven’t liked watching a privileged dudebro take up so much of the narrative space on this show — a critique I understand. Privileged dudebros get almost every mainstream story. Can’t they let us have Supergirl? I do get that, and think it’s a valid way to respond to this storyline. (Not that there is an invalid way to respond to your favorite media. No TV critic has jurisdiction over your fandom.)
For me, however, Mon-El has been an important part of the Supergirl narrative. (Though, unacceptably, seemingly at the expense of a storyline for James Olsen.) The more inclusive world that Supergirl so optimistically imagines wouldn’t be quite so optimistic if it didn’t have a place for the reformed oppressor, too. It’s one of the reasons why I like Mad Max: Fury Road so much. Because it has a forgiveness to it, a chance for those who who have benefitted from the system to also have a place in a better future, if they choose to fight for what’s right. If they choose to change. It shows what that might look like. It argues that it is never too late to make a different choice, to make a better choice.
That is how I have chosen to look at the Mon-El storyline on Supergirl. “You believe that people can change, and you give them a chance to do it,” Mon-El tells Kara after she saves him from the Daxamite ship. I don’t think the oppressed have any responsibility to the oppressor, but I think those who are complicit in a system of oppression suffer from it, too. Not in the same way or to the same degree, but systems of inequality hurt all of us in some way, and if we can imagine a world that has a second chance for everyone, whether they are equally deserving or not, then I think that we need to strive for that world.
Mon-El’s slow, frustrating lesson in how to be a good person has been an exercise in this kind of storytelling, in this kind of imagining of what a better world would look like. Yes, it’s on a superhero TV show and it is relatively simplistic in some ways, but, you know what, it’s something. There’s a difference between a show that revolved around and glorifies a dudebro character and a show that includes a dudebro character in a critical, challenging way. Supergirl is the latter kind of show, and I applaud its efforts to give us a more complicated brand of feminism. It’s not perfect and some may have a vastly different interpretation of this storyline, but, from my own, biased, intersectional perspective, it’s something.
But, I digress! Because there were a lot of very important plot points that evolved in Distant Sun, and a lot of them had to do with the deliciously villainous Queen Rhea, who makes her son look like the most progressive and open-minded marshmallow ever. Rhea has been travelling across the stars for years looking for her son. I don’t know if she was this terrible before her planet was destroyed and she became a space vagabond, but if Mon-El’s coolness towards both of his parents is anything to go by, probably.
As it is, Rhea tries to repeatedly kill Kara — first, via bounty hunters, then with her own Kryptonite daggers — then, when her son agrees to go with her to keep Kara safe, throws him in a dungeon when he begins to question their monarchical system of ruling. Luckily for Mon-El, Kara doesn’t let her boyfriends get kidnapped by their parents. She convinces J’onn to mobilize the DEO for a rescue mission, despite President Marsden’s (aka Lynda Carter) very specific orders to not engage with the Daxamite ship. Family means no one gets left behind, bitches.
It’s all hands on deck for the rescue mission, which ends with Mon-El’s dad (aka Kevin Sorbo) convincing Rhea to let Mon-El go. The relatively (R.I.P., spaced Daxamite guard) happy ending seems too good to be true… and it is. Queen Rhea has power/control/sociopath issues. She kills her husband for letting Mon-El go and turns her gaze back on Earth. She’s not done with it yet. Gulp.
While Rhea was demonstrating how not to treat the people you love, Alex was doing a pretty damn good job of demonstrating what a healthy relationship looks like. When Maggie and Alex run into Maggie’s ex, Emily, during a yoga date, they all decide to get dinner together. Emily doesn’t show up, leading Maggie to tell Alex a story about how Emily dumped her and told her she didn’t deserve to be happy after a five year relationship.
If that sounds like only part of the story, it was. When Alex approaches Emily about it (which, I think was overstepping boundaries and inappropriate, but works out), Emily lets slip that Maggie cheated on her, breaking her heart. Rather than taking the typical TV drama path and having Alex fly into a rage about Maggie’s half-truth, Alex tells Maggie that she wants her to be able to trust her enough to tell her the ugly things, too. The things she’s ashamed and embarrassed of.
It’s so freaking mature and understanding and also underlines another important Supergirl theme: the difference between being good and being perfect. The latter goal doesn’t leave much room for mistakes, for being human. The former is a much more realistic goal. Like The Flash before it, Supergirl recognizes that being good (i.e. compassionate, empathetic, and kind) isn’t something that you’re born with. It’s something that you choose and not once, but again and again. It’s also something you get to choose, even if you have made different choices in the path. Even if you have been the bad guy before. (“You make it look so easy to do the right thing that you wouldn’t even guess it was that hard.”)
The Sanvers relationship continues to be a real bright spot of this show, an example of how TV relationships can be interesting and dramatic without relying on contrived drama. How can you not root for these two?